VIENNA — With a break or two here and a twist or two there it might have been the Man High School softball team getting their team picture taken on Thursday afternoon in Vienna with the Class A state championship plaques.
Instead, it was Wheeling Central which capped off a 33-0 undefeated season with a 7-2 victory over Man in the state finals.
Man, which closed out the season 26-7 overall and 2-2 in the state tournament, needed three wins on Thursday, including two over the Maroon Knights, in order to win the crown.
The Lady Billies got things started in the morning on Thursday with an 8-0 shutout win over Williamstown in a loser’s bracket elimination game.
Wheeling Central then took care of business in the afternoon session.
But it could have been a different story.
Had it not been for a furious Maroon Knights’ comeback the evening before back on Wednesday it might have been Wheeling Central which would have had to have slogged through a long haul back from the loser’s bracket.
Man had led Wheeling Central 2-0 in Wednesday night’s winner’s bracket contest and held a 2-1 lead going into the last half of the seventh inning, shocking all of the fans in attendance.
The Maroon Knights then bounced back to plate a pair to win 3-2 and send Man into the loser’s bracket. Wheeling Central won it as a runner scored from third on a wild pitch.
It was the turning point in the entire Class A state tournament.
In Thursday’s finals, Wheeling Central’s Marissa Garlitz tossed a five-hit complete game. She walked three, fanned four and allowed just one earned run.
Wheeling Central exploded early and things were made easy for Garlitz after being handed a six-run bottom of the first.
Wheeling Central had a pair of two-run doubles in the big frame thanks to Riley Bennington and JaiErh Jackson. Allie Cook and Hannah Mozingo also had RBI singles for the Maroon Knights.
Man scratched across single tallies in the fourth and fifth frames, respectively. However, the Maroon Knights already led 7-0 by that point thanks to Baily Rehm’s run-scoring single in the third.
Man’s first run came when Sydney Keffer, who went 2 for 3, scored on a wild pitch. The only RBI for Man came via an Emilee Toler RBI single that plated Savannah MacCormack.
Too little too late for the Lady Billies.
It was still a remarkable season for Man, which was playing in its last season in Class A ball. Man won back-to-back Class A state championships in 2008 and 2009, were the 2010 state runner-up and have been back to Vienna in three out of the last four seasons.
The Lady Billies, which are headed back up to Double-A next season, made an impression in their Single-A swan song.
“One big inning, when you get to this level, usually makes the difference,” Lady Billies’ coach Randy Epperly said. “We’re still proud of them, though, because we had a good season. We’ll be back. We’re not strangers to this place.”
Wheeling Central coach Rick Magruder said the big inning was key to giving his team some space and putting the pressure on Man.
“Today we just came out hitting and it gave us some breathing room,” Magruder told Metro News.
The Maroon Knights won their first title since 2007.
“It’s amazing what these girls accomplished,” Magruder said. “There’s not many teams that can say they were 33-0 and won a state championship.”
It’s the second straight year Wheeling Central knocked off Man in the Class A state championship round. Last year, the Maroon Knights won 10-2 over Man to eliminate the Lady Billies.
Man went 2-2 in the state tourney for the second straight year.
Man is expected to field another fine team next spring, however, starters Cydnee Lambert, McCormack and Toler will be lost to graduation.
It’s also unclear at this point which softball sectional Man will play in.
It will also be the last time in at least the foreseeable future Logan County’s three high schools will be playing in different classificaitons.
Next school year, Man, Chapmanville and Logan will also be competing as Double-A schools. Logan is dropping down from 3A. Man hasn’t been a Double-A school since 2003.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).